Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 2009 -Hmmmmmm

Disclaimer: I try to stay positive in most of my posts. My goal is to be refreshing and uplifting. Some of the material contained below might be disturbing to some readers. Depressing, even. So, if you were on the fence about taking a 20 story leap today and came hear for inspiring witty prose, I recommend not going any farther. I also recommend a gin and Prozac fizz. Duly warned, read on if you wish.

What a January!!! The opening 31 days of 2009 have been a roller coaster of highs and lows and I just can’t get my arms around how I feel about it all. I’m writing about it here because it will affect my blog. Not for the worse, I hope. First I’ll get the bad news out of the way. I have been swept up in the national economic downturn. I was laid off a couple of days ago. This was not unexpected. I could feel this coming for some time, so at least I wasn’t blindsided. What’s horribly sad is that since my office is in Rhode Island and I am in Florida, I can’t say goodbye to my friends and colleagues in person. Now before you go feeling all bad for me, I received a descent severance and I have a line on a couple of opportunities. I am also a nurse (although I haven’t done that in a while), so I can always work. So, while a tad nervous, I am not remotely sad or depressed about this series of events.

On the flip side, I’ve had some great days in January. The Food Network came to cook at my house, I was asked to contribute to our local Creative Loafing Magazine food blog and I went to the Inauguration for a president who, for the 1st time in 12 years, I voted for. I’ve had friends comment about how “lucky” I am (and I think that I am). So all in all, I’m a bit confused over what emotions I’m supposed to feel. I guess the best approach is to realize that the sun is always shining somewhere and just move on. And I will.

The effect on my food blog for now is that I won’t be able to discuss cool food finds in far off lands. I can’t really afford to go back to York or Honk Kong just to write about my meals. For now, you’re stuck with my cooking adventures and local fare, which, by the way, I feel I have sorely neglected. OK Tampa Bay, like it or not, I’m home for a while.

I’m trying to figure out how to successfully contribute to Both Creative Loafing AND Louis Loves Food. I don’t wish to post the same writing in both places so I think I’ll use links to associate relevant articles to each other. I’m really new at all of this but I’m having soooo much fun sharing my passion for great food and how it’s made that I’m sure I’ll figure out a balance. I have just submitted my first article and it should be viewable soon. You can see my bio here.

I also wanted to share my Facebook page. Please come find me. I love updating my friends and reading about the day to day lives of folks that I just don’t see enough.

So here’s to 2009. When the dust settles, I’m sure all will be well. After all, today will pass, tomorrow will come and the sun will definitely be shining somewhere.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Last Week

Walking the streets of Washington DC last week and seeing the throngs of people who had come to celebrate, I was more than moved. DC was Barack Obama EVERYTHING. Not just your typical hats and t-shirts, I saw bottles Obama hot sauce. I saw Obama breath mints (labeled: For Powerfully Fresh Breath). It was perhaps the MOST indescribable, words-can’t-do-it-justice event I may ever witness. Being in the midst of this sea of humanity sharing a common feeling makes one feel like they are a part of something bigger; much bigger.

While President Obama stirs the social consciousness of a nation with unparalleled skill and grace, it is difficult to ignore that the last administration was so disliked that electing a Cocker Spaniel would have brought at least a small measure of enthusiasm. As Marine One carried the newly dethroned former President Bush away from the Capitol Building and over the crowd, the 1.8 million people on the mall cheered and waved a long overdue “bye-bye”.

In the midst of all of this excitement, there was food. Lots of food. From burger dives to amazing restaurants, we covered our bases this week. We drank at famous bars where presidents have walked and walked as many miles as our feet could carry us. Since everyone out there saw the TV coverage, I’ll take you on a journey through our culinary week. If you’re in DC, I’ll list MY personal favorite restaurants and even tell you about a surprising clunker (in my humble foodie opinion). And I’ll gladly share our pre-inaugural Frittata that was just perfect on this most auspicious of times.

It began by landing in Washington on Saturday. I wanted to attend the concert on Sunday, so arriving early was a must. As with most visits with my mother, our week began with a visit to the market. We hit a couple and I must say that Harris Teeter is my new favorite store but that story is for another time.

Have I shared my Dijon and Thyme roasted pork loin recipe before? Well if I haven’t, I will again because that was dinner. After the markets, mom and I descended upon her kitchen with passion. Once the Dijon marinated pork was in the oven, I set to work on some roasted rutabagas while mom pursued a bacon and vinegar spinach. Like most roasted meats, the secret to succulence is temperature. If you choose not to use a thermometer and your roasts come out perfect 100% of the time, you have my admiration. After about 90 minutes at 325 degrees, the thermometer read 150 degrees and my pork was done. A good rest later, and she sliced like a filet; perfectly juicy, cooked through with just a hint that there used to be pink in the center. The perfume of the Dijon and thyme filled the space and everyone was mesmerized. Mom’s spinach was elegant and delicious and the rutabagas fit in perfectly. Our first night was a success and the left over pork made for quick sandwiches for the rest of the week.

Monday two friends arrived from Tampa after driving all night. We had a night of festivities ahead but first they needed to go get their inauguration tickets and get some much needed sleep. I decided to fuel them up with a quick frittata.

There is no secret to making a great frittata but there are a few tips. As a rule, any flavor that might spark up a good omelet is good for a frittata. The difference is in the cooking process. Most frittatas in my repertoire are born from foraging the refrigerator this morning was no exception. Things like last-night’s-potatoes or leftover ham are the types of ingredients I shoot for. In this case, there was half a bag of fresh spinach left as well as mushrooms, bell peppers and my mother’s always overflowing cheese drawer. These were colors that would paint the canvas of a special breakfast. While I do share the frittata recipe below, PLEASE take MANY liberties with your own version. The cooking process is the important part and not the ingredients.

While there were other delectable cooking adventures (someday I must share the open faced steak and egg bagel with blue cheese sauce… YUM!), the DC restaurant scene and nightlife were not lost on us. Most notably, was the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. People from all walks of life and in all manners of attire were in this place. I was wearing jeans, as were many others but there were plenty of tuxedo clad gentlemen in route to various functions. The history at this hotel is rich. Closed for years and almost demolished in the 80’s, The Willard was fortunately swept up in the city’s fruitful gentrification that followed. Restored to reflect its past, it is a DC landmark. Ulysses S. Grant would stroll to the bar for a cigar and libation at the end of a long presidential day (I think I would have liked him). Word got around about this and folks trying to push their causes or agendas would gather in the lobby hoping to get an audience with the president. I’m not sure how the president felt about this but the term lobbyist was born. Below is my friend Will and I. He is enjoying the Willard signature drink, the Mint Julep, introduced to the bar by Henry Clay.

Will and I at the Willard
The night goes on to include tequila shots at the The Old Ebbitt Grill, greasy after midnight burgers on DuPont Circle and general celebration. I think I’m too old for this but Will was the one sick the next morning, not me.

I was sad to see Will and Amanda go after the inauguration but they had two young kids to get home to. Mom and I continued the week’s adventure. One thing I like to do when I’m in culinarily diverse cities (such as DC, New York or San Francisco) is eat foods that I can’t get elsewhere. This led to me do some internet research on the city’s Ethiopian fare. As I expected there was a large Ethiopian community in Washington. I found Etete on and the reviews were quite favorable so I convinced mom to meet me there after work. I didn’t realize that she had never eaten Ethiopian food and I was surprised to learn that she had avoided it on purpose. Apparently she wasn’t keen on the whole eating-without-utensils idea. If you have not had Ethiopian fare before, you do, in fact, use your hands. Meals are served family style in a tray with your entrée, vegetables and sauces placed on various parts of the large plate. Injera, a spongy pliable bread that looks like a crepe and has a lovely sourdough taste, is served with the meal. It is your only utensil and is used to scoop. The various spice mixes, such as Berbere and Mitmita are combinations of Ethiopian flavors such as local peppers, paprikas and garlic. They are often hot and are somewhat reminiscent of Indian flavors. Often paired with lamb, beef or chicken, the dishes are difficult to pronounce but easy to eat. We stuffed ourselves and I was please that mom couldn’t get a good parking place because I needed the extra walk. Oh… and a huge benefit to Ethiopian dining is that your wallet will not suffer. A bottle of wine and dinner for 2 was about 60 bucks before the tip at one of the best Ethiopian restaurants in town.

Another night was a new restaurant for me. Palena in Cleveland Park is where former White House chef Frank Ruba offers unbelievably wonderful and creative fare such as King Salmon and Beet Ravioli. His spectacular plating is also pared with simple elegance in other dished such as roasted free range chicken that must be ordered 45 minutes in advance so that it can be roasted fresh. Normally I would look for something more unique on such an elaborate menu but the bartender told me that the chicken was the house specialty. Really? With choices from Skate to Lamb to Sturgeon, this guy was pushing the chicken. Fine I took the bait and ordered the chicken. It is simply presented on a white plate with a tender and mild dressing beneath it. The chicken is small as far as chickens go, but since I was served half of a bird, it was plenty. So how good could this be? I’ve eaten lots of chicken. Who hasn’t? Well the crust was as perfect as any roasted chicken skin could be, and beneath, the meat was so moist and sweet and tender that it was like savory chicken pate. Unbelievable. I may never roast another chicken at home.

I tasted the sturgeon that my mom ordered and if fish could be described as rich, that would be the word for this fish. The taste was clean and fresh and buttery. We also nibbled on a pate and a cheese tray as appetizers and while typically way to small as with most fine dining establishments, the flavors were just remarkable. This is now on my list of “MUST DO’s” for Washington DC. Unlike the Ethiopian restaurant, this place is not as wallet friendly but I didn’t think $200 for the 3 of us was too crazy (especially since we ordered a number of drinks –I had a Long Island Iced Tea).

Before I move to the recipes, I have to vent just a little. I was disappointed with one establishment this week and it just goes to show you that celebrity does not a hit make. Last season on Top Chef a guy named Spike was a fan favorite who went deep into the competition.

In 2008, he used his celebrity to help him open a wonderful little concept place in a prime part of Capitol Hill right on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Good Stuff Eatery was his creation based on wax-paper wrapped fresh burgers he recalled from his childhood. I love this idea because I believe to my core that there are never enough great burgers on the planet. Unfortunately this was not one of them. Now there was nothing particularly wrong with this burger but there was nothing particularly right with it either. There were a few specialty burgers on the menu and I hear their sauces and milk shakes are highlights but I started with his generic Farmhouse Cheeseburger, fries and a coke. If I’m gonna spend 10 bucks on that (which is not above me), it better be a damned great burger and this was just OK. “OK” as in I-could-make-you-just-as-good-a-burger-at-home “OK”. Still disappointed, I left thinking I should give one of the house specialties a try before passing final judgment so perhaps one day I will return but for the time being, I do not recommend The Good Stuff Eatery. I did love the concept of the “Obama Burger” though.

There are at least 3 other good food stories this week but in consideration of your time, I’ll wrap up with the following two recipes from this week. I didn’t take any photos of the pork but I promise, it’ll become a staple in any kitchen that tries this. It is too easy and too good.
Thyme and Dijon Roasted Pork Loin

1 medium sized pork loin
¼ cup Dijon mustard
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs, stems are OK because we’ll fish them out later (1 tbsp if using dried)
Salt and pepper to taste

Season loin with salt and pepper. Coat with the mustard and thyme and refrigerate for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Before cooking, allow pork to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes or so. More important than time is to remove the pork when the internal temp is around 150 degrees. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing.

This Frittata was simply delicious. Try this one or any variation of your own.

Inaugural Frittata

1 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp butter
1 medium red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 cup mushrooms, diced
2 scallions, diced
4 cups washed fresh spinach
6 eggs
½ cup milk or cream (I had heavy cream and used it)
½ cup Pecorino-Romano cheese
1 cup Pepper Jack cheese

In a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat, add the oil and melt the butter. Sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and fragrant. Do not brown the garlic. Add bell pepper, mushrooms and scallions. Cook until mushrooms give up most of their water and it evaporates, about 10 minutes. Add the spinach and allow to wilt down but not completely. In the meantime, mix the eggs, milk or cream and Pecorino-Romano in a mixing bowl. Lower the heat to medium low and add the egg mixture. Cook until done around the edges, about 3-4 minutes. Place under broiler until top is just set, about 1 minute. Remove, top with Pepper Jack and place back under broiler until top is bubbly and just beginning to brown.

Carefully use a paring knife or thin spatula to separate the frittata from the pan and slide onto plate. Serve in wedges.

Serves 6-8.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


BREAKING NEWS: We are interrupting our regularly scheduled food blog to discuss the inauguration.

OK … I know that this is a food blog but I have to quickly share a few photos. I arrived in Washington DC yesterday and this city is in full swing. This little nobody is awed at all of the somebodies that are gathering here for a historic event. This morning I got up and went for an early walk (a bit chilly for this Florida boy). Here’s what the capitol building looks like 2 days before the inauguration.

Here are the contents of the inaugural invitation packet.

Oh and if you ask, “How did he get a ticket?” The answer is simple. I asked my congressman and he was giving special consideration to veterans (I am one). I am in the standing room only section which is about as far back as you can get and still be in the “invitation only” area, so it’s not that austere.

Still… I’m quite excited.

More updates to follow and we’ll be returning to our regularly scheduled blog shortly.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beef Ribs and Asian Noodle Salad

I left a small detail out of my last post. I spent so much energy focusing on the events surrounding my visit from The Food Network and my celebrity guests that I never discussed the food. Whoops. This is a food blog after all. I got as little self absorbed. Sorry.

Beef ribs were to be the theme of the shoot. That decision had been made by Food Network weeks in advance. I even questioned the producer asking if she was sure she wanted beef ribs. They are little discussed in the food community because in the grand scheme of things there isn’t a lot of meat to a rib. She told me that was the idea. Something new, she said. Well, I tell you honestly, I don’t ever recall working with beef ribs. Still, I am used to slow cooking large pieces of meat and these slab qualify.

Since I had family and friends coming over for a BBQ theme, I settled on about 25 lbs of ribs. These are not easy to come by. I had to have a couple of stores put them off to the side as steaks were cut from them. These filled 2 large roasting pans. Cooking them was going to be a problem too because my little tin-can-style $40 Wal-Mart grill was not going to handle 25 lbs of ribs. I was going to need to cook these in the oven then somehow incorporate that limitation into a show about BBQ. I concocted a plan. After 5-6 hours of slow oven roasting, I was going to use my grill to finish off each slab of ribs, one at a time, with about 15 minutes of smoking.

We also needed a couple of sides but since these wouldn’t even be featured, I wasn’t too stressed about that. I had seen Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, make an Asian noodle salad that looked intriguing. I thought I’d try that from memory and the rest was store bought. The plan was hatched. Time to execute.

There is no art to rubbing ribs. It’s just messy. There is a lot to say about rubs though. While I’ve said in previous posts that store bought rubs are a fine choice, I decided to make my own for this. I had an idea about the flavor I was shooting for here. I wanted a little edge; something unique. I wanted that what-is-that-flavor reaction (in a good way, of course). To achieve this goal I made a slightly spicy rub but added just a hint of nutmeg. That’s different. And to top THAT, I used some fresh picked Oranges to squeeze over the trays of meat while in the oven.

Our prep began the night before. Olivia and I rolled up our sleeves and got to rubbing. We worked those things like they were Paris Hilton at a Beverly Hills spa massage. I heard them sigh at the end. The next morning, I had the ribs in a 250 degree oven by 6 AM. Pasta Salad time. Ina used regular thin spaghetti. I copied that idea. The dressing was a basic Asian dressing with soy, sesame oil, and other wonderful Thai and pan-Asian flavors. Combined with strips of crisp red bell pepper and just blanched snow peas, this was a hit amongst the crew as well as the guests. I tried to look up the original recipe, but it has fallen from the Food Network’s site already. My version was close and may in fact be identical if my memory serves me. Either way, this is just spectacular. I got as many compliments on this as anything and I thought it was better the next day making it the perfect “prepare the night before” side dish.

So how did the feaux-smoked ribs taste? Well we got a little side tracked. Turns out, as I was smoking the first slab and doing the demo for the cameras, they unleashed their surprise on me with the Neelys arriving by boat. In the end ALL the rest of my ribs were only oven done. But the taste? Unbelievable! Succulent! I am still shocked to say that these were as good as grilled (I’m sure there’s a Texan or 2 that will argue that). They were perfectly tender and very easy to eat. The rub had heat and flavor and my mouth waters just thinking back to them. What really made me feel good was the cooking staff for the Food Network loved them. I couldn’t get a better compliment.

So here they are. You will love these right out of the oven. If you do chose to smoke them, use a non smoked paprika and you can smoke on the grill for the same amount of time as the oven.

Slow Roasted Beef Ribs with Spiced Rub

2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp dried mustard
2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp nutmeg
4 tsp salt
10 lbs beef ribs
2 large oranges, quartered

Combine all dry ingredients. Rub the meat generously with spice mix and refrigerate overnight. The following day, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place the ribs in a large roasting pan and squeeze the oranges over the meat. Put into the oven. Roast for 5-6 hours. After a couple of hours, baste the meat with the drippings then every hour until done.

Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before parting the ribs and serving.

Asian Pasta Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten

With so much activity in my home, I never photographed this. I wish I had because it was lovely and an integral part of the day. This was be even better on day 2 so make a day in advance if you like.


1 cup canola oil
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice wine vinegar (mine is infused with some peppers –I like the heat)
2 tbsp sriracha sauce (Hot sauce used in Asian cooking but if unavailable, use any Asian hot sauce from you grocery aisle. This is milder than most hot sauces I think.)
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 cloves garlic finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt since soy sauce is salty but I found I did need to add some)

Blend all ingredients together and wish vigorously. Set aside.

For the pasta

4 tbsp sesame seeds
1 ½ cup snow peas, unshucked
1 lb thin spaghetti
1 red bell pepper, thinly julienned
1 cup cilantro leaves, no stems. I preferred unchopped

Toast the sesame seeds. Place in a dry sauté pan over very low heat until just fragrant, approximately 2-3 minutes. The margin between toasted and bitterly burned is narrow so keep an eye on it.
Blanch the snow peas. Place in pot of boiling water for 1 minute then quickly remove with a slotted spoon and place in ice water bath. This stops the cooking leaving the snow peas vibrantly green and crisp. In the same boiling water, add the spaghetti and cook till al dente, usually 7-8 minutes. Remove and drain. Refrigerate.
I like to add a touch of salt and drizzle of olive oil to just drained and still steaming spaghetti but that’s just me.
Place spaghetti in serving dish and toss in the dressing and sesame seeds. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Once cooled through completely, toss in the remainder of the ingredients and refrigerate a bit longer so that all flavors can blend. The longer the better.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Food Network Surprise -The Neelys Come to Cook with Me

I was about to post a highly compelling and potentially award winning blog article about the virtues of artichokes –but I got derailed. You will forgive me, won’t you? It was for a good cause, I think. I didn’t want to spill the beans on my adventures this week in advance because I didn’t know what to expect but I think now is a good time. I’ll start at the beginning.

A couple of months ago I began a dialog with The Food Network. That’s right, the food network! Too cool. It was for a show called “Dear Food Network”. It’s a show where viewers ask a Food Network celeb a question via camcorder and they would answer from the studio. No big deal really. So I sent in my video. Next thing I know, a producer flies here to chat with me for an afternoon. They go on to tell me that they might like to send a crew to do a bit of video with me. Well, one thing leads to another and in the end, I have a crew of about 10-12 folks in my house helping me with a little food demo that I believe will be all of about 2-3 minutes of airtime. Then, in the middle of me “getting my ribs on” for the camera, I hear folks shouting my name from behind me. “Hey, Louis, Whatcha cookin’?” Spinning around I see Pat and Gina Neely pulling up to our sea wall in a boat.

I got punked. Turns out, I was set up by The Food Network from the very beginning. Since you’re reading this blog, I assume you know the Neely’s but in the event you don’t, they are successful restaurateurs from Memphis who have a couple of TV shows on Food Network. They went from a small show called “Down Home with the Neelys” (which they still do) to several specials and other shows. Amongst us geeky food people, they are pretty high in the pecking order and true celebrities.

Olivia and I seasoning ribs the night before

Do you ever wonder what folks you see on TV are really like? I do. Can anyone really smile that much? Well, in the few hours I spent with Pat and Gina, I can say that they do. Kind and easy going, Pat and Gina Neely are the same folks that you see on TV. After a bit of shooting, it was already lunch time for the crew (union rules). In true food network fashion, a pretty generous spread was set out in my garage. We all sat around and chatted for a bit before getting back to the business of making a TV show.

After lunch, we headed outside and grilled up some beef ribs for the cameras. My friends and family had a fantastic time and they were as surprised as I was about the celebrity guests. After our little segment, the Neelys answered another viewer question and cooked up a shrimp salad that they invited me to share. Delicious again.

What a long day!!! In the end, I learned quite a bit about how a shoot goes. If anyone thinks the job of the crew is easy, wow!.... Wrong! They worked hard from the minute they got here in the morning until the last person left around 9 PM. I learned how to do a “swap out”. That’s where you put the uncooked thingy in and a magically cooked thingy comes out. I learned that “beauty shots” are the staged pictures of food that one sees on the shows. The beauty shots they did here was the last thing they did and while they may look good on TV, the food had been out in the open for many hours. A food stylist is along to make sure the food looks good on camera though. I learned that a crew comes completely self contained, so if you are ever asked for your home to be a location, no worries. They even bring their own toilet paper. And I also learned that they WAY over-prepare. Not only did I buy a bunch of food at their request (of course they paid for it) but they came with TONS. My refrigerator was busting out at the seams when they left. The following day I had to smoke up the rest of the rib meat, about 25 lbs. I passed it out to my neighbors.

Mostly I learned that my little hobby paid off for a day. My over indulgent passion for cooking was coddled and exploited in such a humbling and beautiful way. They validated what I thought only I knew; that food prepared with true love for family and friends is worth talking about and in this case, sharing with the world.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Getting Back to our Roots

We experience winter a bit differently down here. While it is true that we pull our sweaters and jackets out a few days each year, it is just as common to see shorts and flip-flops about. Growing up, I thought that only a few folks had the white Christmases as seen on TV. I believed then that the palm tree was a more common tree than the pine. Amazing how we grow up in our little bubbles.

One place that winter is noticeable here in Florida is the grocery store; produce section, to be exact. While most spring and summer vegetables can be found year round thanks to big boats coming up from South America, there are a few subtle differences. It’s more about what I CAN find versus what I CAN’T. Gourds and root vegetables specifically now have whole sections of the produce market dedicated to them and every year there seems to be a new squash hybrid that I am introduced to. I would say it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I began really exploring the different selections available. Boy, what was I missing?

I have recently exalted the virtues of gourds but the root veggies need some time in the spotlight. Things like turnips, parsnips and beets have become part of my weekly shopping and rightly so. The definition of a true root vegetable has something to do with it being an energy repository (in the form of sugars) for the entire plant. That means there is culinary delight to be found in those sweet earthy flavors and I needed to find the ways to bring them to life. Here are a few examples of ideas to try that I have found deliciously simple.

Turnips –I had some company over the other night and made a lovely mustard and citrus pork roast. On the side, I served the following super simple but delicious side dish that felt quintessentially winter (even though we ate on the patio). While potatoes are technically part of the Tuber family, quibbling is silly and they pair perfectly with turnips here.

Roasted Turnips and Potatoes with Thyme

2 cups peeled and diced turnips (approx ½ inch cubes)
2 cups peeled and diced Yukon Gold potatoes (approx ½ inch cubes)
8-10 fresh thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper to taste (as always I believe in generous seasoning)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Serves 6 as a side

Don’t blink or you’ll miss these tough directions. Combine ALL ingredients in a bowl and toss to evenly distribute. Lay onto large baking sheet and place in a 325 degree pre-heated oven for about 35 minutes. Cooking times can vary. They are done when the edges are slightly browned and fork tender. Fish out the thyme stems and serve.

Beets –OK I love beets. I mean, I REALLY love beets. They are probably the healthiest food product that has such a high place on my “depth” chart. Roasted fresh beets with a touch of oil and salt are enough to make my mouth water at the mere thought. As a kid my mom made a beet and onion salad that I thought was fabulous. I have recreated that several times as an adult and the vinegar and herb dressing enhances sweet beet and onion flavors to new heights. My new favorite beet recipe was inspired by a dish at Al Forno, my oft described and coveted Italian restaurant in Providence, RI. Their roasted beet and avocado salad is beyond description. Buttery, velvety avocado slices paired with sweetly roasted beet slices make one think that these two crops must have been destined for togetherness. It is, in fact, hard to believe that they share no similarity or growing climate. I posted this recipe last summer and here it is. I’ll share my mom’s German heritage recipe. She used sugar in most of her vinegar based dressings but I found that a bit too sweet so I usually omit it.

Beet and Onion Salad

¼ cup vinegar (Your favorite is fine. Balsamic changes the flavor but is equally as delicious. I once used an Asian pepper infused vinegar as well.)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sliced beets (OK I like roasting my own but mom used canned. Both would be good but roasting fresh beets will deepen the flavors tremendously.)
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
Mint for garnish

Combine the first 6 ingredients. Wisk in the olive oil vigorously to emulsify. Add the dressing, beets and onions to a large re-sealable plastic bag and seal. Toss to coat and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Garnish with fresh mint sprig.

Serves 4 as a salad

Step out of the box and be creative. Google Taro root or Yucca and look up some tropical root preparations. For Yucca (which I haven’t made in a while), cut and fry as you would French Fries. Try the twice fried prep (like Pomme Frites) for great results. Serve that with a slow roast of pork with garlic and olives (very Puerto Rican) and you have a hit. For parsnips, the carrots “black sheep” cousin, try slicing thin and pan sauté with butter and brown sugar and add lots of fresh basil at the end. Decadent. Yum.

There are very few rules, you know. Try boiling, roasting, sautéing and combining bright flavors. See what turns up. I recommend picking up something new from the market today. I can’t think of any meat, poultry or fish that we could not make a stunning compliment for.

It’s time to get back to our roots.